K2 Black Panther Tanks for ACR: Korean Solution for Czech Problems

 06. 05. 2020      category: Army of the Czech Republic

The year is 2025 and soldiers from the 73rd Tank Battalion from Přáslavice dust off T-72M1 tanks, trying to keep them running for a little longer. The reservists do not have anything to practice on. The T-72M4CZ version and its last functional piece were transported to Lešany. The fire control system still works in that one, so let's show it off at least at the beginning of the museum season. Is this fiction? So far, yes, but maybe not for long if the army cuts continue.

"A wise ruler... would rather lose a battle with his own army than win it with somebody else's, because he knows that a victory won by somebody else's weapons is not a real victory," said Niccolo Machiavelli, an Italian politician and writer 500 years ago. This piece of wisdom remains relevant even nowadays, and from the point of view of military purchases and tenders, the year 2025 is really round the corner. However, times have advanced and foreign weapons with the involvement of the domestic defence industry do make sense today. Licensed production, 40% share of state-owned enterprises is now a common requirement in tenders.

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Picture: The Czech Armed Forces need new tanks. Pictured T-72 M4 CZ, main battle tank of the ACR | army.cz

Looking beyond the place of origin of the K2 Black Panther tank (The Republic of Korea), we see a modern, sophisticated tank that has only been in production for a couple of years. It is just not some extension of obsolete technology.  Just to give you some perspective. The Abrams M1 tank has been in production since 1979, and the Leopard 2 as well. The Israeli Merkava tank in the latest version of the Mk3 has been manufactured since 1983, or rather since 1989 considering the development and termination of the Mk2 model. Compared to the above-mentioned tanks, the South Korean K2 is significantly lighter (it weighs about 55 tons) and is significantly more modern. As has already been mentioned, the production of the K2 tank was started in 2013. Weight is not a negligible criterion if we focus on the load bearing capacity of bridges, etc. The above-mentioned rival tanks weigh in the range of 64-75 tons. With its weight, the K2 tank is closest to the current ACR armament, i.e. the T-72M4CZ tank, which weighs 48 tons. The performances of both tanks are at least comparable to the competition and the crew of the K2 tank also has the same arrangement to which the ACR is accustomed, i.e. driver, shooter and commander.

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Picture: K2 Black Panther serial tanks of the South Korean Army | ROKAF / CC BY-SA 2.0      

In terms of expansion, K2 is a newcomer. There are only a few dozen pieces so far, but there is talk of Poland’s interest, where the K2 tank is said to be the main favourite in the Polish tender for 800 new tanks. One K2 tank costs over 8.8 million US dollars, which is about 218 million Czech crowns at the current unfavourable exchange rate. This is not little, but a significant price reduction can be expected with a larger volume of demand within Europe. And that is not unrealistic. According to the available information, there is an absolute shortage of Leopard 2, so it cannot be purchased. We cannot buy the Merkava either, the Abrams is past its prime and it is unlikely that the Czech Army would create the demand for the Challenger tanks from Britain, the Leclerc from France or the Ariette from Italy. There is also no point in talking about equipment from Russia and the T-90 or T-14 Armata tank. The Russian army itself has major problems with its supply, and it is logical that overall purchases from Russia are not (and probably never will be) on the agenda.

But back to the K2 tank. Its main weapon is a 120mm Rheinmetall L55 cannon with a smooth bore barrel, which is manufactured under license in South Korea. It can also use KSTAM (Korean Smart Top-Attack Munition) anti-tank missiles with "shoot and forget" technology. Secondary armament includes machine guns caliber 12.7 and 7.62 mm.  The Black Panther is powered by a twelve-cylinder 1500 hp diesel, which allows it to travel at speeds of up to 70 km/h. This makes it a tad bit faster than most of the competitors. The commander and shooter have the use of modernized display systems from K1 series tanks. The safety of the crew is ensured by layered armour, with the possibility of adding reactive armour, either explosive or non-explosive. There is a warning system (MAWS) installed on the turret, which warns about approaching guided missiles, together with radar jamming equipment and radar (RWR) and laser (LWR) warning receivers. The chances of survival of the crew are further increased by the on-board fire suppression system.

Video: K2 Black Panther tank in action | YouTube

And the fact that K2 is from South Korea? In the end, it should not even matter. If the order is placed, a significant share of production will be taken care of by the domestic industry. After all, for example, the state enterprise VOP CZ has considerable experience with this. Most of the current tanks and IFV for the ACR were manufactured or modernized here. The production of most Pandurs also took place here, and last but not least, with regard to foreign cooperation, VOP CZ is an important supplier for the NIMR company and has been producing armoured cabs for AJBAN 440A vehicles for more than two years. Another possible domestic participation in the production of the K2 tank can be ensured by the industrial holding CZECHOSLOVAK GROUP (CSG), as proven by the presence of the South Korean company Hyundai Rotem at the CSG stand at the international military exhibition MSPO 2018 in Poland, where South Koreans together with CSG promoted their K2 tank Black Panther.

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Picture: K2 Black Panther tank model in Czech camouflage | DP

 Author: Martin Šiška